Golf brings out the best and the worst in humanity

The sport's stiff code of conduct can lead to pettiness and bigotry

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The Independent Online

"I would ask members to remind themselves of the proper ethical and legal traditions that underlie the culture of our club and the legal system of our country." Among those who occupy high office in Britain, only the captain of a golf club could have written something as pompous, overbearing and specious as this.

One of the great things about golf is its rules and regulations, and the requirement on its competitors to follow a strict code. But one of the worst things is the way these strictures breed an officious attitude in those who consider themselves responsible for the application of standards.

And so it was that the captain of Wimbledon Park Golf Club stepped into a dispute between club members with rhetoric that wouldn't have gone amiss had it come from Lord Justice Leveson. Ostensibly, the row concerns one of the club's best players, accused by fellow members of serial cheating, and other transgressions.

An anonymous email was circulated, demanding his removal from the club: the provenance of the email was discovered and the writer has been asked to leave, rather than the alleged cheat.

But this story, reported with prurient relish yesterday, is about much more than small-time politics in a suburban golf club. It is a quintessentially English morality tale involving etiquette, snobbery, sharp practice, and an errant dog.

The accused member's dog is alleged to have gone over to a neighbouring green and run off with the ball of a lady golfer. In some clubs, where the 20th century has not yet been recognised and where sexism is built into the fabric, this might be regarded as a heroic act, but it was frowned upon in SW19, especially as the dog's owner failed to treat the incident with sufficient gravity.

But it is for offences perpetrated with his own hand that the golfer, who has won a number of club competitions, stands accused. Such as putting an opponent's ball in his pocket while pretending to search for it, or kicking his own ball out of the rough.

The email also complains about his “loud swearing ... in the men's changing room”. I detect the aroma of snobbery here. He plays off a very low handicap, wins the prizes, has a dog with misogynistic tendencies, and uses bad language? He simply isn't “one of us”.

All right, there's the cheating, but, in the end, he's only cheating himself, and the god of golf. And if there's one place where a man could swear loudly without giving offence, it is surely in the men's changing room. In fact, in my club, I believe it may be compulsory.

I found this story depressing. Golf is one of the great sports of the world, the perfect test of physical ability and mental application, and a game where honesty and manners are prized. Golf clubs, however, germinate less worthy aspects of human nature: pettiness, jealousy, bigotry, high-handedness. And, worst of all, anonymous emails.